On Writing

Tony Romano on writing…

Scratching the Paper

I made a breakthrough this past summer. I can now compose at the computer! I’ve always been able to compose letters, class assignments, work for textbooks, even essays, at the computer, but that’s because I’ve always considered this Nuts and Bolts writing. There’s usually already raw material I get to work with. I just need to fashion it, hammer out the chinks, and polish and polish—and polish again. But this summer I started writing fiction at the computer. Fiction is the stuff of dreams, lies, half-truths. You have to squeeze ideas from cold air, and that little hum from the computer screen had always seemed like a pesty fly to me, as if IT were reminding me to come on already. Sounds a little psychotic, I know, but I finally convinced myself to defy the computer’s taunting and sit there until the stories spilled out.

So why did I abandon my 0.3mm rolling pen that softly scratches the paper as it glides along, a sound I’ve always found satisfying? I’m not really sure. I do know that when I sit at a desk writing fiction, the process is painstaking; ideas dribble out in quiet spurts. On the other hand, when I write nonfiction—at the keyboard—my ideas flow fairly steadily. I don’t worry as much about creating the perfect sentence. I write and forge ahead and know I can go back later and repair the clunkers. Some time last summer I thought, Hmmm, maybe I could apply this fairly productive technique to my fiction-writing. I could sit in front of a pulsating screen, and the story lies would break out in waves. That hasn’t exactly happened, but I have been more productive. I don’t censor myself as much during the first few drafts. I tap and tap and edit later.

Ah, but now I’ve created another monster. I’m tied to the computer. And since I’m committed to writing fiction in the morning—one habit I don’t want to abandon just yet—I have to find a computer at the school where I work. And the computer needs to be in a room where I can be by myself without interruption for a good hour or two. Unless I decide to spend thousands of dollars on a laptop, which I don’t want to do because my kids need new shoes, I have a problem, one which I haven’t solved yet. This is only my third day back at school, so I’m not panicking yet, but I’m working on a novel and I have two characters sitting in a DeSoto, waiting for me to decide their fate. Whether they get out of that car through the scratching of the pen or the tapping of the keys is immaterial, I suppose. But they do need to get out. I feel them waiting.